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Epic in Agile: Definition & Example

Instructor: Stephen Meyer

Stephen has worked as a Project Manager and is PMP certified, as well as certified by the Scrum Alliance.

Project requirements are often defined over time, rather than all at once. In Agile, epics can be used as a placeholder for requirements that need further definition. Learn about epics in Agile.

Definition

Leonard's software company is making some changes. They are looking for a different approach to managing projects, so he has been helping his team explore Agile. One of the unique aspects of Agile is the treatment of project requirements. Like traditional methodologies, project requirements in Agile must be defined before they are taken on. However, unlike in traditional methodologies, the project can advance without all project requirements being defined up front.

These less-defined requirements, known as epics, are perfectly acceptable as is until they need to be taken on. This allows requirements to evolve as the team learns more from working on the project. Leonard and his team are drawn to the flexibility in Agile that comes through the use of epics.

User Stories

Agile takes an incremental and iterative approach to projects. This involves breaking down project requirements to be smaller and more manageable so that they can be completed in shorter, repeated timeframes, or iterations. In order to be taken on by the development team, project requirements must take the form of user stories, which detail specific aspects of desired functionality for end users.

There are two defining aspects of user stories, including structure and size. User stories follow a defined structure that answers questions of who, what, and why. They detail a specific user, a desired functionality, and the reason for the functionality, which is either a need or business value. There are not only specifics regarding the definition of a user story but for its size as well. User stories must be small enough to be completed, that is fully developed and tested, within a single iteration.

Epics

In addition to user stories, project requirements can also take the form of epics, which are relatively undefined or too large to complete in a single iteration. Unlike user stories, which parallel the defined project requirements of traditional methodologies, epics are unique. Traditional methodologies do not allow the project to advance until all requirements are defined, so there is no parallel.

Epics are often thought of as user stories that are too large or too complex. This is because, as epics are broken down or are defined in greater detail, the end result should be user stories that the team can complete. While it is helpful to think of epics as a variation of user stories, they are not always similar. While user stories have a specific structure, epics do not. They typically include some elements of a user story, such as user, functionality, and reason but may or may not include them all.

In relation to the overall project, epics are kept in the product backlog, which is a prioritized grouping of project work that has not yet been taken on by the team. The items at the top of the backlog should be in a ready state or user story form. They are organized with the highest priority at the top as that user story will be taken on next. Epics should be further down the backlog, as they are not in a ready state.

Example

Once Leonard and his team start to get an understanding of project requirements in Agile, specifically epics, he then moves on to a tangible example. This his team to take hold of what they have learned. Recently, they completed work on a website for a parks and recreation department. Using a traditional methodology, they spent a significant amount of time at the beginning defining all project requirements before they were able to start working. He believes Agile, with the ability to use epics, would have made the project easier.

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